BARBACOA: A Gargantuan Waiter Brings the Whole Goat, Cooked All Night on Hot Stones
On my way back to the Gulf of Mexico beach in Chuburna (near Progreso) the other day I was stopped by a torrential downpour. One of those tropical ones that blinds all traffic, pastes familiar resignation on the faces of near-drowned pedestrians, and makes one think about the nearest place for a cold beer and lunch. “Turn right just ahead,” my friend suggested, “go three blocks, and we will be at El Corral del Carnero, the best barbacoa in the Yucatan.” I felt my way slowly right and, sure enough, in three blocks there was a sign with a goat on it and an arrow pointing into the parking lot. Everything about the place was large. The lot, the dining room, the menu, and our waiter. I abhor large menus, so after a freezing bottle of Sol (it was 90 degrees in the open-sided room and steamy), I threw the menu onto the table and begged my friend to steer us to the best choices. “You like goat, right?” My reply, “Does a bear shit in the woods?”, had him laughing–once he got it–and imitating me for hours. Was the pope Catholic had brought no reaction. Like many educated Catholics down here he’d prefer a bear to a pope any day.
Our gargantuan waiter showed up with some heart. Hadn’t ordered it, but he had heard me waxing lyrically when I saw it on the menu. Grilled goat heart. It was flattened out into long strips Tampico-style, and cooked through–then through again. Horrible waste of heart. My friend asked for it para llevar (‘to go”) for his dog. But the thick perfume rising off the obviously hand-made humid, velvety, aromatic, tortillas had my mouth watering. Four sauces arrived. A bright red chili one (“mild”), a dark red chili (“so-so”), green tomatillo, and dark green with bits of charred habanero chili skin floating in it (“con cuidado” or watch out). I dipped a corner into each of them. After the fourth I watched out and my Yucatecan friend filled a tortilla with lashings of it. Then the array of barbacoa arrived. The braising/roasting juices from goat head to tail doused in wild oregano, sour orange juice, handfuls of garlic, cinnamon and allspice, dried ancho and guajillo chilies, onions, bay leaf, cumin seeds and–well the list goes on. That was presented as soup. All of it had been wrapped in maguey leaves and cooked on hot stones overnight with dirt piled on top, clam bake style. By ‘all’ of it I mean everything from its anus to the tip of its nose. Jelly bits from the head, its tongue, brains, intestines, liver, no heart (we already had that for my friend’s dog Eros), but everything else. Piled into those hand-made tortillas, a splash of both red sauces, and you could have heard our sighs all the way back to Merida–if our mouths had not been so full of goat and then cold beer. Best whole animal I have ever had in my mouth. //Jeremiah Tower, Mexico
—What Did You Eat Today, Jeremiah Tower? is a regular 2paragraphs Food & Wine feature.